Studying Like A Pro, pt. 4: Note-Taking Excellence

Chapter 4: How to Take Notes Like a Study Ninja

When someone mentions “note-taking,” this is probably what you think: sit down during a class or lecture, write down the most important information (or just the slide headings), fill in with some details, then close your notebook. Done-zo!

Well, sort of. The good news: you got half the note-taking work out of the way. The bad news: there’s still another half! Just think of it this way: the notes you take in class are part one of a two-part series. Ignoring the second half of note-taking is like watching the first hour of Finding Nemo, but never finishing it. Inconceivable!

The notes you take in class, let’s call those First-Pass notes. They’re important for getting down big ideas, useful examples, references to look into, and more. However, in the moment, you don’t have time to pause and ask questions, to compare and contrast what you’re learning with other ideas, or to organize the information with helpful visuals. That’s where Fine-Tune notes come in. Making good Fine-Tune notes means redesigning your First-Pass notes on a new page (physical or digital), where you can lay out important ideas in a more intentional way. It might sound like a chore, but in reality, in the Fine-Tune phase you get to be autonomous and learn for yourself (instead of someone else telling you what to do!).

Very important: Fine-Tune notes are NOT just a repetition of your First-Pass notes! They’re much more: they help you add, subtract, research, rearrange, and re-word ideas until you’ve cleared up any confusion. They often use one or multiple of the visual organizers below:

Fine-Tune Trick #1: Visual Organizers

  • Try using some of the following techniques to organize info visually

    • Mind-map

    • Graph

    • T-Chart

    • Venn Diagram

    • Timeline

    • Flow Chart

Fine-Tune Trick #2: Chunking

  • Are there any helpful ways of grouping – or “chunking” – the ideas you are studying? For instance, in a history class, you might be able to group important events into categories: cultural, military, international, economic, etc.

Fine-Tune Trick #3: Vacuum Pack Your Notes

  • Fine-Tune notes are all about the big ideas. They’re designed to give you a clear understanding of how different sub-topics relate to the main ideas. What’s most useful about Fine-Tune notes is that you are in charge of organizing them—not your textbook or your teacher.

First-Pass and Fine-Tune notes go together like PB&J. If you put this one-two punch of note-taking ninja skills into action, you’ll a better grasp on what’s happening in class, and studying for exams will be way easier than before. Taking excellent notes—today!—is the key to deeper understanding, better grades, and more confidence as a student.

Andrew Delman